A scathing attack on Clonmel’s Flood Relief Scheme has been launched by the secretary of the Workman’s Boat Club in the town.
Retired teacher Shay Hurley has claimed that the scheme has rewarded the theft of land from the flood plain and he described what had happened in recent years as “mind-boggling, stultifying and absolutely incredible”.
He said it also rewarded developers, speculators and the local authority and no one had been held accountable for the damage caused to the town’s history and heritage.
Mr. Hurley was speaking at the public forum on water issues chaired by MEPs Phil Prendergast and Sean Kelly at the Clonmel Park Hotel last Friday.
The town’s Flood Relief Scheme was among the issues discussed at the meeting. The €20 million scheme is due to be completed next summer and was launched following a series of catastrophic floods that devastated homes and businesses in the town when the river Suir burst its banks.
Mr. Hurley claimed that the heart of medieval Clonmel on the river and the heritage of Suir Island had been destroyed. He said the OPW, which is responsible for the scheme, was in a no-win situation because the damage had already been done by decisions taken in the past by the Borough Council and County Council.
He welcomed the scheme for what it is and said he had no problem with the contractors and project managers, who were professional and doing their job.
However he said the scheme rewarded bad practice and he expressed his concern that it would be exported to other towns with disastrous consequences.
All of the Quay stones had been removed but not one had been incorporated into “the so-called new Quay”. The Old Bridge and Suir Island had the same significance for Clonmel as the Coliseum had for Rome, but the Old Bridge was being modified to the extent that it was being destroyed.
He said there had been at least 23 medieval arches on the Old Bridge but you were now left with just three arches. “A flat-pack bridge” had replaced all these arches and there was no aesthetic to this new structure.
A look at maps of the flood plain stretching back 25 years would reveal the extent of the infill and theft of land from the flood plain that had taken place. He said that flooding had occurred in the town regularly since a huge amount of the bank had been removed by the local authority from Joyce’s Lane over a decade ago and this shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. A pipe laid underneath the street would have been sufficient.
Mr. Hurley said a former Borough Engineer had described Suir Island as the jewel in the crown of Clonmel but now it was home to “an acropolis of rubbish”, the remains of what were once the island’s great houses and the mills. The legacy in iron, wood and stone of the Grubbs and other families was gone.
He said many of the arches and tail races on Suir Island had been blocked and no longer carried water in what was supposed to be a flood relief scheme.
“My fear is that the reason these were blocked is to give carte blanche to developers who would believe that Suir Island was safe from flooding”, he said.
Thanks to the co-operation of the contractors, the project managers, the OPW and the Borough Council some of the arches and mill stones had been incorporated in the scheme and he hoped that the surviving waterway at the south of the island could be saved.
However Cllr. Siobhan Ambrose told the forum that the room could easily be filled with people whose homes and business had been affected by flooding in the town in recent years and who were “elated” with this work.
Those people were very grateful to the OPW for the Flood Relief Scheme, she said.
Cyril McCarthy, a chartered engineer with the OPW, said that Shay Hurley’s contributions were valued. “We’re listening to you and will continue to oblige you when and where we can”, he said.
There were new planning guidelines that promoted sustainable development regarding flood risk and hopefully the mistakes that had been made wouldn’t be repeated or made to the same extent, said Mr. McCarthy.